pests

Making a Healthy Home for a Healthier Life

By Lina Younes

There are many expressions regarding the concept of the home. My favorites are “home is where the heart is” and in Spanish, the welcoming expression, “mi casa es su casa” (my home is your home).  But have you stopped to think if your home is truly a warm, inviting and HEALTHY environment?

Did you know that our homes may have hidden environmental risks that may affect our health? What are some of these environmental risks?

  • Indoor air quality – Poor ventilation systems may lead to indoor air pollution that in turn can adversely affect people with asthma or heart and respiratory problems.
  • Mold – Do you have a leaky faucet or roof? Excess moisture may lead to the growth of mold which is a known trigger of asthma attacks.
  • Lead – Was your house built before 1978? It may have lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal that adversely affects people’s nervous system and causes behavioral, learning and hearing problems.
  • Radon – Did you know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers? Radon is an invisible and odorless gas produced during the natural process of the decomposition of uranium. The gas may accumulate inside your home leading to radon exposure. Have your home tested!
  • Pests – Household pests can carry diseases and trigger asthma attacks. Use integrated pest management techniques. Don’t give pests any food, water or shelter in your home.
  • Pesticides:  Read the label before using pesticides to get rid of pests. Used improperly, pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of food nutrients necessary for normal growth.  Also, during “critical periods” of human development (including infancy and childhood), exposure to toxins can permanently alter the way a person’s biological systems operate.

Given these potential environmental hazards in our home that may lead to serious public health problems, federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are working to improve the safety of your home.  Just this week, EPA and its sister agencies launched a new initiative Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action” to establish a comprehensive agenda for addressing environmental health and safety hazards in our nation’s housing.

Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action shows how federal agencies and our partners, at all levels, can collaborate to prevent health threats associated with the home environment. You can do your part to make sure your home is safe for you and your family.  Simple steps for identifying and addressing hazards in the home can be found in EPA’s Healthy Homes  brochure, “Make Your House a Healthy Home.”

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Protecting Children Comes First

By Lina Younes

I hate pests! I loathe disease-carrying rodents with a passion.

Several years ago, I participated in the filming of a TV interview in Spanish with an expert in healthy homes. Together, we went room by room through a home and day care to identify potential environmental hazards and, above all, to learn how to keep areas pest free.

I found the experience very informative. Personally, I was struck by the behavior of rodents. Did you know that mice and small rats can fit through holes about the size of a quarter and can squeeze their way into your home and take up residence, nesting in corners and feeding on food crumbs? Yuck!

Likewise, small children have their own behavioral characteristics. They spend a lot of the time on the floor, crawling or playing. Their innate curiosity leads them to grab small articles they find along their way and often put them into their mouths, including mouse pellets they may find in open trays on the floor. More than 10,000 kids each year in the U.S. are exposed to mouse and rat pellets, often by putting them in their mouths. That is why EPA has been working with pesticide manufacturers to change consumer mouse and rat poisons to be sold in enclosed bait stations, to protect curious kids from the poison. The enclosed bait stations are also protective of household pets.

In addition, EPA is banning four of the most toxic poisons from consumer products, to protect wildlife. Mouse and rat poisons that you use inside your home can harm wildlife because poisoned rodents that venture outside can poison wildlife like hawks and foxes that ingest rodents as prey.

So, what can you do to keep your children safe from accidental poisonings in the home?

  1. Read the label first! By not following the instructions carefully, you can actually put your family at risk.
  2. Create barriers to prevent rodents from entering the home by closing cracks, using wire mesh along pipes, so that these unwanted visitors will not seek shelter in your home and you will need to use less poison.

Do you have any safety tips that you would like to share with us? We always like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Winter Tips: An Uninviting Home

By Lina Younes

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

As the winter season is about to begin, many of us wish to create a warm and welcoming home environment for our family and friends. However, there are some little creatures we don’t want to roll out the welcome mat for, however they are attempting to seek refuge in our houses at this very moment.  What creatures am I referring to? The unwanted ones! Common household pests like rodents, creepy crawling bugs and the like.

So how can we prevent these pests from settling in your home? What can you do to prevent an infestation?

  • Tip number one: Set up barriers so pests cannot get into your house or apartment.

As temperatures start to drop, pests are looking for warm places to survive the cold months. Close off places where they can enter and hide. Seal around the doors and install door sweeps to prevent them from coming in through the bottom of the door. Caulk cracks and crevices around cabinets or baseboards. Use steel wool to fill spaces around pipes. Cover any holes with wire mesh.

  • Tip number two: Remove clutter such as stacks of paper, newspapers, magazines and boxes.

Clutter is a very appealing refuge for unwanted pests. Cluttered items create a warm setting where these pests can camp out and multiply during the cold winter months.

  • Tip number three: Don’t give these pests any food or water.

While I highly doubt that we purposely want to serve these unwanted creatures a meal at our table, we might not be aware that the crumbs, spills, or dirty dishes that we leave overnight in the kitchen sink serve basically as pest magnets while we are in deep slumber!

  • Tip number four: Fix leaky plumbing. Don’t let water accumulate anywhere in your home.

Water from leaky plumbing, plant trays, and even pet dishes attracts pests like rodents, cockroaches and other bugs. Moisture coming from leaks can also produce mold which causes a whole different set of health issues.

Hope these simple tips help you to create an unwelcoming setting for pests. Frankly, if they find a more welcoming environment, they simply will go elsewhere for the winter or any time of year.

If in spite of all your best efforts, you still have a bug problem? Use pesticide products wisely and always, read the label first!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Stink Bug Dilemma

By Amy Miller

The family is getting ready for a good game of Fastrack. It’s a bit like air hockey, but smaller and quicker. It’s one of the few things that will district us all from computers, TV, the iPod touch or cellulars.

And then a half-inch long, shield-shaped bug appears. “It’s a stink bug,” Lane and Benjamin proclaim.

My daughter forbids me to kill it. Our family is inconsistent on the looming moral question of whether killing an insect constitutes killing. But the problem here is not so high-minded. The problem is that my daughter says the bug will, well, stink to high holy heck if we kill it.

“Why do you think they call it that!” Lane demands, asking that exasperated rhetorical question that is a teenager’s main tool for communication.

Well, I have no idea, I dared not say.

But later, in the quiet after bedtimes, I scanned the web for information.

Turns out these bugs stink when they are scared, smushed, dead, annoyed, or slightly inconvenienced. And especially when they are collected in a vacuum cleaner. They are annoying homeowners in more US states than not these days. They are not native to this country and have only been around since someone or something coming from Asia brought them to Pennsylvania in the 90’s. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the bugs moved from Pennsylvania to most other parts of the country. They apparently got to Texas on an R.V.

Warm weather the last year allowed two separate generations of bugs to breed this year making the whole stinky mess worse. Stink bugs are not a threat to property or health, but do threaten agriculture.

Hundreds of stink bugs in your home is not a pretty sight, though. Instead of killing them, you are better off doing what I did – coaxing the little bugger onto a magazine and carefully carrying it to the doorstep to be tossed into the wind.

And if you didn’t notice, this is the time of year stink bugs move indoors. Soon they will be in hibernation until spring. But for now, the bugs — officially called “brown marmorated stink bugs” — are enjoying our digs.

There are researchers looking at how someday a tiny parasitic wasp from Asia might reduce the stink bug population. This, of course, did me little good when my 10-year-old son got in bed, found a stink bug on his sheets and declared that he could not sleep because of nightmares of invading stink bugs.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Early Blooms and Bugs

By Lina Younes

Due to the mild spring, many bulbs and flowering plants have been blooming early.

In our area, forsythia and bulbs were the first to make their appearance. Azalea bushes that normally bloom around Mother’s Day already peaked several weeks ago. Even rose bushes have some breathtaking flowers earlier than usual. As I was taking a walk, I couldn’t resist capturing the moment through some pictures which I’m sharing with you.

Unseasonably mild temperatures have also ushered the early arrival of other living creatures to our neighborhoods: bugs. While we welcome beneficial insects, especially pollinators such as butterflies and bees, we will not be putting out the welcoming mat for pests such as ants, termites, ticks and mosquitoes. Special measures will be needed to control biting insects that can transmit diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. Our web pages indicate which insect repellents are most effective in controlling specific biting insects. When using insect repellents or any pesticide products, always remember to read the label first.

So, as you’re getting your garden ready for the planting season, adopt greenscaping practices to attract beneficial insects. By planting the right native trees, plants and shrubs you’ll create an inviting environment for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Any gardening projects in the making? Please share your ideas with us.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Flowering Journey

By Vanessa Trafas

When I began my search for the perfect internship in Washington DC I already knew where I wanted to work. EPA was the perfect opportunity for what I wanted to do. And, so, it was to be. I remember my first day at the Office of the Pesticide Programs in the communications branch. I was so excited I arrived an hour early. The only thing that worried me was whether or not the people I was going to work with would be friendly and open to me as an intern.

In the beginning I lacked the confidence to ask my coworkers if they needed help. But, as the weeks went by I became more and more in rhythm with the way the office worked. The turning point in my internship was when I was asked to sit in on a meeting about EPA’s role in the Philadelphia Flower Show. This meeting set the mood for the rest of my internship.

I spent the next several weeks working on a project for the Philadelphia Flower Show, searching for pictures of beneficial insects and other information for a slideshow presentation. The EPA display educated people about innovative and safe ways to control pests. In working on this project I made connections with many experts in other branches at the Pesticides Office and worked closely with coworkers to prepare the best presentation. The teamwork gave me the opportunity to learn about the wide array of issues the office deals with. The culmination of this project presented me with the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia to show the result of my work.

Meeting everyone who put so much time into the Show made me recognize the magnitude of my contribution and appreciate all the work that the Pesticide Office puts into educating people about safe pesticide use. It is clear that EPA wants to help people understand there are safe ways to controls pests. . Our goal was to provide people at the flower show with information on IPM in gardening, insect repellents, and other tips to protect against vector-borne diseases. Show attendees were able to ask questions about gardening and safe pest control.

I greatly miss the work and learned many valuable lessons from people at EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs. I am thankful for such a rewarding experience and this internship has given me confidence going forward in the future. I hope someday that I can give back and help an intern with a rewarding and motivating experience.

And did I mention that the EPA display won the Best in Show for Non-Academic Education? Others must have noticed our enthusiasm for safe pest control too.

About the author: Vanessa Trafas interned in the communications branch of the Office of the Pesticide Programs from January to March 2012. She is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz where she studied both Business Management Economics and Environmental Studies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How the 3R’s Can Make a Healthier Home

By Lina Younes

I don’t know about you, but it takes me forever to put away all the holiday decorations once the festivities are over. While all my family members are eager to put up the Christmas tree and decorations right after Thanksgiving, I just don’t find the same number of enthusiastic helpers available at the beginning of the new year. When I finally came around to putting the decorations away, I realized that I had to do more to remove the clutter and start the overall process of having a healthier home environment.

When I embarked on this project to get some order at home, I decided to break it down by room because otherwise the task seemed overwhelming. I enlisted my youngest to help me clean up the toy room first to recycle or donate many of those objects that were just sitting neglected in a pile.

Then, I decided to apply the same rule in the kitchen. What were the items that we used the most? What are those items that are more seasonal or can be stored for use at a later date? What items can be donated to Good Will? As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, reducing clutter is a great way to implementing Integrated Pest Management practices and keep the pests away.

Then, I tackled my youngest daughter’s room. She had definitely outgrown many clothes that were still in perfectly good condition. There were some good coats and jackets that will definitely keep a child warm this winter. Then I went through my closet to find some things that I have been holding on for years. Those items definitely could be used by someone else so they were classified under “items to be donated” as well.

While organizing, I found several old cell phones in drawers. You can either donate them to some non-profit organizations or recycle them.  There are precious metals and plastics in those phones that can be recycled and turned into new products. That way they don’t end up in a landfill.

So, do you have any plans to make your home healthier? We would like to hear from you. If you want to take a glimpse as how you can protect the air quality in your home, visit our virtual house for some tips.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Keeping the Pests Away

By Lina Younes

Recently, I had a bug infestation in my pantry. Nope. I’m not talking about cockroaches, ants or rodents. There were numerous small beetle-like bugs attacking foods like flour, dry cereals, and even boxed pasta products. I was surprised to see the infestation given the fact that I’ve always strived to abide by integrated pest management practices. Didn’t think that this was happening in our household!

My husband’s immediate reaction was to suggest spraying the whole place with an insecticide to get rid of the bugs. I agreed with discarding those products that seemed to be the focus of the infestation, but I didn’t want to spray an area that would be in contact with food. I didn’t want insecticide residues to remain in my pantry long after the spraying. So, I set aside several hours to empty the pantry completely. I discarded all the cereals and flour-based products in bags and boxes. I cleaned the pantry thoroughly to get rid of any crumbs or remnants of those unwanted critters. Then, I put the canned goods back in. Any new cereals or flour-based products were placed in plastic or glass containers before going in the pantry.

There are simple tips on how to prevent pests from entering your home. If you’ve eliminated the sources of food, water and shelter first, it is unlikely that they will seek refuge in your home. However, if you’ve taken preventive measures and they still become a nuisance, then you should apply low-risk pesticides properly. Remember that using more is not always better, Cleanliness and these simple steps can go a long way to keep your home pest-free.

So, it’s been several weeks since the get-rid-of-the-bugs operation. I’m happy to report that the pantry is still bug-free. Have you had a similar bug attack? How have you eliminated these unwanted creatures? Send us your comments. We would like to know.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as the Multilingual Communications Liaison. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

More Is Not Always Better

How many times have you seen a cockroach in your home and attempted to spray an entire can of bug killer to get rid of all cockroaches once and for all? How many times of you seen a little field mouse venture into your home and resorted to using tons of rat poison to eliminate any possible infestation from here to the end of time? How many times have you used excessive amounts of cleaners in an attempt to make things cleaner and brighter? Well, the reality is that more is not always better. In fact, excessive use of pesticides or household cleaners can be counterproductive and even put your entire family at risk.

One basic principle for using pesticides and household cleaners safely is to read the label first!  By reading the product label, you will get the necessary information to use the product properly and minimize exposure to these chemicals. Furthermore, the label provides first aid information in the event of an accidental poisoning.

While I have made the point of reading the label when using pesticide products, I wasn’t aware of the need to follow the label’s instructions with the same care when using other common soaps and household products. In fact, I recently watched a program that illustrated how excessive amounts of laundry detergent actually produced the opposite effect by leaving cloths dingy from too much soap. Excessive soap could also produce soap scum in some washing machines which, unfortunately, serves as a breeding ground for bacteria. The consumer show also stressed the need to read the instructions manual for the household appliance to maximize use and efficiency. Similar guidelines also apply when using other appliances such as dishwashers.

Therefore, emptying an entire container of pesticides will not keep the pests at bay. Good integrated pest management practices will.

So, why not start today?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Eliminating Pests Without Poisons

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

As I was getting ready to go to work, I was listening to the gardening segment
on the local news radio station. The announcer was giving advice on how to eliminate those unwanted critters that might invade the home to escape from the winter cold without having to use toxic substances. He recommended using mouse traps, for example, instead of fumigating or using rat poison.

As I listened to his useful tips, I realized that he was basically advocating for Integrated Pest Management,
a practice that here at EPA we highly recommend,

Without having to use toxic chemicals, you can prevent pests from seeking refuge in your home if you create an environment that is not pleasing to them. How, you may ask? Well, basically, be a very inhospitable host. What do I mean by that? Well, don’t give them any food to eat, nothing to drink, and no shelter! I know we wouldn’t welcome these pests knowingly, but frankly, when we leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight, or leave water for our pets overnight, or even let water accumulate under our plant pots or around the home, or we have a cluttered home, we are extending an open invitation to the unwanted critters!!! Why do I mention clutter like newspapers, bags, boxes, etc., because you don’t want to create the perfect hiding place for them nor their relatives….

So, even if you follow these steps and you get a visit from an unwanted guest like these pests, consider using baits and traps so you can keep toxics out of your home. Keep a healthy home for you, your family, as well as your pets.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.